Presentation of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s (NSERC) Awards
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Rideau Hall, Monday, February 14, 2011
Let me begin by recalling the words of Joseph Howe, a great Canadian who said:
“The triangle is a simple figure, yet by its properties oceans are traversed and planets measured.”
One might also think of Archimedes’ lever with which he moved the world.
I think each of you gathered here today for this very special occasion can relate. Aided by the tools of science and engineering, and driven by your determination to deepen our understanding of the natural world, you have opened up new frontiers of knowledge and innovation.
These awards recognize your work as some of Canada’s top scientists and engineers. I am struck by the extraordinary depth and breadth of your achievements, which are so important to our shared prosperity. You are global leaders in a wide range of disciplines.
Each of you is part of a proud tradition of innovation and discovery in Canada. This country has long been at the forefront of technological advancement, partly in response to our vast geography. Think of railway-building in the late-1800s, or the introduction of new communications technologies in the 20th century. These innovations helped to knit Canada together.
I am also reminded of the discoveries made some 400 years ago by Samuel de Champlain, the first governor of what we now call Canada.
Champlain dreamed of building a society based on peace, tolerance and innovation. He was a diligent researcher and careful observer, and he knew that successful exploration is the product of an open and prepared mind.
The parallels to your work are clear. Like Champlain, you know that innovation drives discovery. His instrument was the astrolabe; yours include the algorithm, the observatory, the spectrometer and the photon.
Innovation, in essence, is about crafting new ideas to improve the way we do things. Innovation is about seeing things differently, and imagining that which could be.
In 2017, Canada will celebrate its 150th birthday, and I believe that learning and innovation must be central to our vision of the future. The smart and caring nation we strive for will measure itself by how well it develops the talent of its people, and how it uses their knowledge to improve the human condition.
A smart and caring nation recognizes the importance of collaboration across disciplines. We no longer live in a linear world, where knowledge is generated in isolation and kept in silos.
Today, the imperative is for horizontal cross-fertilization. I want to commend NSERC for its leadership in creating partnerships among post-secondary institutions, governments and the private sector.
As a university president for 26 wonderful years, I saw the results of such collaboration first-hand, over and over again. The academic community is a wonderful incubator of ideas, talent and innovation, and your support is essential to conducting world-class research.
In a globalized world, leadership comes from the strength of our ideas and the pace of our innovation. And just as we must work across specialties, we must also work across borders.
To paraphrase F.R. Scott, we must be citizens of the world who live in the country of the mind.
The knowledge that each of you has generated through your research can benefit the world, sometimes in surprising ways. Advances in one field can inform the work of another. The progress we have made in genomics, for example, would be unthinkable without the development of information technologies able to store and process vast amounts of data.
So the diversity of research being celebrated here today is most encouraging.
On behalf of all Canadians, I want to extend to you my appreciation for your hard work and belief in the promise of knowledge. You are driven by that noble human impulse—the desire to know.
You have answered the call to service and are an example of what a smart and caring society looks like in the 21st century.